Sunday 28 January 2024

General synopsis


WIND - South 5 to 7 becoming cyclonic 4 to 6. 

SEA STATE - Slight or moderate. 

WEATHER - Rain, mainly later, fog patches later. 

VISIBILITY - Moderate or good, occasionally very poor later.

So said the Shipping Forecast earlier today. Of course, what was happening further out to sea was probably very different to walking along Hessle Foreshore this afternoon photographing (once more) the behemoth that is the Humber Bridge.

Tuesday 23 January 2024

Lording it

It seems that just lately barely a week goes by without a new band (or new to me) parading their wares coquettishly, who then proceed to inject themselves directly under my skin (in a nice way). One such outfit is Lord Huron. Hailing from Los Angeles they are, I don't mind telling you, currently taking up all my bandwidth. I shan't even bother pigeonholing them as it's all but pointless. (Who even knows what an indie/folk/country/rock/surf band emoting new age cinematic soundscapes is meant to sound like?) All
you need to know is they make a wonderful noise. Footnote - I've just seen that they're coming to the UK later in the year. 2024's diary is filling up fast.

Lord Huron - Mine Forever (2022)

Monday 22 January 2024

They don't write 'em like that anymore

The sad news of Laurie Johnson's passing reached Medd Towers today. He was 96. Johnson enjoyed a wide and varied career in the entertainment industry and wrote some of the seminal TV theme tunes of the 60s and 70s. The Professionals, Animal Magic and This is Your Life would normally have been enough to earn you bragging rights. But this, ultimately, is what he'll be remembered for. You just can't imagine Steed and Mrs. Peel clinking champagne glasses to any other music.

The Avengers - opening/closing credits (1967)

Sunday 21 January 2024

"I'm not in love" (he said, lying)

When someone describes themselves as a self professed 'English major nerd with a penchant for sci-fi TV shows' I'm already willing them to win and definitely have a foot in their camp. And in the case of Elle Cordova (aka Reina del Cid) I'm also, ever so slightly, in love. In love with her, her music, her guitar playing and her musical partner Toni Lindgren. Here they both are playing an intimate little set on Caffe Lena TV. (See how they overcome the 'false start': this is precisely why I find them so endearing.)

Runner in the Sun (2023)

Every Sunday morning under the moniker "Elle & Toni" on their YouTube channel they drink coffee (Coffee Cheers!) and play a new song (originals and covers). It's a great format. I've gone with three essential covers. The first is a classic Chuck Berry tune:

C'est la Vie (You Never Can Tell)

Next up I've gone for their version of a song that dominated the charts in 1971/2 and went gold in America for Melanie with sales in excess of 1M. Blimey!

Brand New Key

And finally, here is probably one of the sweetest, heart tugging versions of a Simon & Garfunkel song I think I've ever heard. Don't worry about the chit-chat at the beginning and the plug for Kyser capos, they soon get stuck in to the song...

The Sound of Silence

Thursday 18 January 2024


In 1973 Richard & Linda Thompson drafted in the legendary CWS Manchester Silver Band to beef up I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, and in so doing created an undeniable chemistry between the worlds of folk rock and brass bands. It was a master stroke. You could even call it alchemy.

Richard & Linda Thompson - I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight


Speaking of chemistry. I'm currently reading (and thoroughly enjoying) Lessons in Chemistry. It was recommended by a friend who also happens to be a chemistry teacher - thanks for the heads up, Miss Turner!

Long time gone (Crosby revisited)

David Crosby died on this day last year aged 81. For much of his life he seemed to epitomise the prevailing counter culture that had sprung up in the late 60s & early 70s. A stoner* for sure, yet Crosby was capable of writing some of the most sublime songs, not just of the times, but songs that are still revered to this day. You need look no further than the first album he recorded with Graham Nash and Stephen Stills: it's littered with them. I'm going to go with Long Time Gone. If you have a spare few minutes then I implore you to check out the version on Tom Jones' TV show in late '69, together with future band mate Neil Young on guitar.

Crosby, Stills & Nash - Long Time Gone (1969)

Talking about Crosby, I was up on Merseyside at the weekend gadding about and, once again, found myself being drawn to Antony Gormley's Iron Men on Crosby Beach. I took some friends who'd never seen them before; it was interesting watching their reaction when they saw them for the first time. I've decided Liverpool will become an annual pilgrimage. I love the city. I love the people. I love the vibe. What more can I say? I know BlogCon24 is currently in the planning stages - if you'e looking for a host city...

Before I go, and keeping with the Crosby theme, I recently found this photo of me. It was probably taken  a couple of years before we left Nottingham, so that dates it around 2008. We'd lived on Crosby Road a little shy of twenty years. I've always said had we have hit the twenty mark we may never have left. Talk about a fork in the road; that would have changed the complexion of this blog for sure, make no mistake. (I may pick this up at a later date - my head is clear now so I can talk about it without all the baggage I'd previously been dragging around.) 

* Not sure how he squared the circle in later life when he brought out his own brand of weed - Mighty Croz, It  probably seemed like a good idea at the time but it's his songs, I hope, that we'll remember him by.

Saturday 13 January 2024

You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing to Go Back To

I wrote yesterday about Lean on Pete: one of the most moving books I've ever read. Its author, Willy Vlautin, also doubles up as songwriter and front man with Richmond Fontaine. After twenty odd years together the Portland Oregon band called it a day in 2016 leaving behind them a slew of great albums. I've come to the party real late (purely on the back of Lean on Pete), so have got a shed load of catching up to do.

This is a great song. And the version of it I've chosen (below) is a very stripped back affair (how I generally like my alt. country) with just Vlautin and his fellow guitarist Dan Eccles. Hopefully it will whet your appetite and inspire you to dip into their back catalogue.  

Richmond Fontaine - Don't Skip Out on Me (2016)

Friday 12 January 2024

Lean on Buscemi

Every now and again a book comes along that hits you right there; yeah, there. One such book is our latest Book Club read, Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin. I couldn't put it down on the train the other day - I read it in two sittings (I honestly can't remember the last time I did that).

I shan't bother you with a synopsis, other than to say it's probably the best coming of age slash road novel you're ever likely to come across. Since finishing it I took a look at the movie trailer (yep, it got the motion picture treatment back in 2017) and I think I may have to watch it (I know, I know, I'm breaking one of literary's cardinal rules). But I think I may be forgiven just this once: Steve Buscemi's in it. How can I not watch it? Of course it won't be as good as the book, but, did I tell you, Steve Buscemi's in it!

Lean on Pete - official trailer (2017)

Monday 8 January 2024

Lookin' like a streak of lightnin'

In what looks to be a mid-70s snap (another junk shop photo  find), the young lad photographed in his smart orange sweatshirt sat astride (almost certainly) his first ever motorcycle was, probably, channeling his inner Barry Sheene. I say probably. For all we know he may well have been nursing a secret desire to jump 13 London buses in some half-crazed, half-baked, stunt at Wembley Stadium. Though he'd have to lose those ridiculously wide flares first.

Without doubt, Evel Knievel was a lunatic; if you don't believe me, then just watch this short 15 minute film about his ill fated Wembley jump on a sunny Saturday afternoon, nigh on 50 years ago.

Evel Knievel - 26 May, 1975

Saturday 6 January 2024

New Sheriff in town

As with a good 90% of the old photographs, slides and negatives I acquire from junk shops, flea markets and car boot sales, the runners and riders (a.k.a. who, where and when) are often a complete mystery to me (unless some bright spark has jotted down the stats on the back). Obviously, I can take a stab at dates with the help of fashions, haircuts, cars etc. Locations? Sometimes a sign or a backdrop will give the game away. But the protagonists? Almost never.

Take this one I found this afternoon for instance. Five nameless kids sat on a wall outside what is probably a 1930s semi. Judging by the car (Ford Anglia) and the duffel coated girl on the far right, I'm going for late 50s/early 60s. Obviously the Sheriff couldn't be seen wearing toggles so his cowboy garb could cover any era from the days of Billy the Kid onwards.

Either way, they make for a fantastic quintet. Kids living their best lives. And the question always hanging in the air whenever I look at photos like this - and I rifled thru 200+ today - is always the same. Who were they? (And what became of them all?) 

ELP: The Sheriff (1972)

Friday 5 January 2024

You get too much you get too high

It's common knowledge around these parts that I have a soft spot for the Sweet. Always have had. And although Brian, Mick and Steve are sadly no longer with us, it's somehow fallen on Andy Scott, last man standing, to continue the band's legacy. I'm not sure why, mind. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan: I told him as much when I interviewed him back in the day. But he should let it go now. Andy and his cohorts came to my town in December for a show at Rock City and I didn't go. My bad. But the band of brothers he was so tightly intertwined with thru the whole of the 70s (and early 80s as a three piece) don't exist anymore. I want to remember them the way they were; only on record, in fans memories, and on those amazing YouTube clips does the glammest of all glam groups come close to recreating the excitement levels they generated back in 1973.

But fair play to Scott, he schleps around Europe with his touring band, year after year, like a travelling circus, trying to reignite the flame that once burned so bright. Ironically, the closest he got was a few years back with a cover version of an old George Benson number: clearly loaded with a reworked Love is Like Oxygen riff, they came as close as they ever had to replicating the sound that, for a period of close to ten straight years, guaranteed them VIP Lane access direct to the higher reaches of the UK singles charts week after week. It's a blinder...

The Sweet - On Broadway (2013)   

Thursday 4 January 2024

It's a gas, gas, gas

I was saying to Martin at New Amusements only last week that when I lock myself away in my office & fire up the Mac to start a new blog post, I invariably don't have a clue what I'll be writing about. The words just appear on the page. Sometimes not many, I grant you! That was certainly the case on Tuesday when I put together my Forton Services homage. It came about on the back of Swiss Adam's very personal collection of trinkets on January's Photo Challenge feature which went live on Monday. Then yesterday's follow up piece on Markham Moor kind of wrote itself* (again, having photos tucked away in my archive generally gives focus to my scribbling).

And so today's piece, based around a handful of photos I took in the Spring last year of a disused gas station in Markfield, Leicester seems a perfect bookend to prop up this week's 'Once proud service stations that now find themselves in reduced circumstances'.** Usual format - the photograph at the top (always by an unknown/uncredited photographer) taken back in the day capturing a once iconic Services with up to date photos below showing how they look today.

Sad, yes - but taken as a psychogeographical record of an our ever changing social history then, what the hell, it says a lot about how we treat our once proud buildings & architecture that we either knock 'em down or let them wither on the vine. I've got a nagging feeling that if Markfield was situated within the M25 and therefore commutable from London they would have thrown money at this to restore it to its former gory. Tell me I'm wrong.

Anyway, here endeth my petroleum trilogy for this week. I sincerely hope you've enjoyed it.

* No, of course they 'don't write themselves' (we have AI for that), but some days it's easier to tease the words out than others. 
** Catchy, huh?

Wednesday 3 January 2024

How the mighty have fallen

On the back of yesterday's post about Forton Services, I suddenly remembered another similar piece I'd written over 10 years ago about another Services behemoth: Markham Moor on the A1 and its amazing hyperbolic paraboloid roof. As a kid in the 70s, sitting in the back of dad's Hillman Minx as we drove by this fantastic structure, I honestly thought I'd somehow glimpsed the future. 

Sadly not, as it turned out. In my post dated 12 May 2012 I concluded the piece by saying "It could be worse, it could be a Subway." Ladies and gentleman, look away now if you're easily offended. I did a photo smash and grab on the place in May '22. Don't say I didn't warn you...

Tuesday 2 January 2024

"Stand by for Action!"

Built in 1965, Forton Services on the M6 (betwixt J32/33) is probably the most recognisable services in the UK. Unfortunately, its hexagonal Pennine Tower Restaurant and sundeck were closed to the public in 1989 (file under 'Nothing in this country works anymore') but apparently the views to be had over Morecambe Bay were unrivalled.

I may have taken a few liberties with the above photo I took of it as I made my way to Scotland last year, but the image below is how I always see it in my mind's eye (file under 'Everything was better in the 70s); owing, as it does, more to Commander Shore and Marineville than its current iteration as a Moto pie and a piss stop just outside Lancaster. 

Monday 1 January 2024

Wot you readin'?

Happy New Year to you all and welcome to the first Photo Challenge of 2024. I suspect, judging by my inbox, this month really
has been something of a challenge! I was asking for a book and an artefact (a 'thing'), basically. Either separately or together. And as ever, you've come back at me with some fantastic images. (And some great book recommendations thrown into the mix too.) OK, here we go. Rol, as is customary, you're up first...

"Hi John, as an English teacher, I spent far too long worrying about a worthy book to represent my vast library (I read a lot more before I became a teacher!) then in the end, I decided to settle for the one story that has meant most to me throughout the life... the story of Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man. Pictured is the Omnibus volume which collects the complete run of early Spidey stories by creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, plus a crystal art Spidey that my son made for me. 'Nuff said, as Stan would say. Happy New Year! Rol." Just what I was after, not so tricky was it?!                

Alyson Mac is making up for lost time - "Hi John, I'm sharing pics of my two favourite collections which really make up a whole 'thing'. I am an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of all sorts of things but these two are up there with my most precious. For my book, I'm sending you the entire set of books published by local author Jane Duncan. The titles make the books sound a bit twee but they are anything but, dealing with social issues of the day. She was a big cheese back in the late '50s/early '60s but still has many fans who collect her books. I am one of the few who has the whole set (I know this as my other blog is dedicated to her and the part of the world she is from); the first being purchased at a Brownie jumble sale when I was around 10 and the rest from second-hand book shops and slightly nefarious means (I once "lost" a library book so paid my dues to complete my collection). I reread them all in sequence every so often and as they are all semi-autobiographical (her character is Janet) I find it uncanny how similar her life has mirrored my own, only 50 years earlier: an only child to a family who lived in rural Scotland, went to University then worked in offices before getting married and made writing her secret hobby ahead of getting seven of her manuscripts, some sight unseen, published in later life when her circumstances changed and she needed to earn some money. I have published an awful lot online in later life but sadly it hasn't earned me much - tho' I did get paid by the BBC for my recent stint on the radio."

"For my artefact, I present to you the Buffy Library complete with collectable figurines. We often used to watch the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer when DD was young but when the series ended in 2003 we decided to buy the entire set of DVDs and watch all 144 episodes in order as a family. We became fully invested in the Buffyverse and have books, T-shirts, and trading cards too. A short time after the series stopped airing on TV, when DD was around 10, we spotted a large box on a shelf at the end of an aisle in Poundstretcher, where the marked-down goods can be found - it was the Buffy library and it was on sale for only £5. Having done a bit of research it would now change hands for around £600 on eBay even without any of the figurines so a good return on our investment although we would never sell it. As for the figurines they were all ripped out of their packaging as soon as we got them to put in the library which means they have lost a lot of their value but we wanted to make it a living and breathing display (although two of the characters are vampires who don't breathe) rather than an array of sealed boxes. Anyway, again I've written far too much but this is the artefact I am most fond of in the house and it sits proudly on the sideboard in our living room. Visitors sometimes do a double-take and wonder why we have a toy on display but of course to us, it is so much more than a toy. And that completes my submission for January. Looking forward to seeing what everyone else comes up with. Cheers for now, Alyson." Thank you so much, Alyson. It all makes perfect sense. Just the sort of trinkets I'd expect to see in Mac Towers.

Adam from Bagging Area next  - "A shelf of trinkets, including concrete models of Forton Service Station and the Toast Rack (a Modernist Mancunian architectural joy), with my favourite novel from 2023, The Perfect Golden Circle by Benjamin Myers." Cheers, Adam. Fancy a Forton Meet-Up in '24?

My friend The Swede has come up with the goods again - "Published in 1961, 'The Goalkeeper's Revenge' is a collection of short stories from the pen of Bill Naughton, who was born in County Mayo, though raised from the age of four in Bolton and each of the 13 tales bristle with adventures inspired by his early 20th Century Lancastrian childhood. The book was originally read to me and the rest of my classmates when I was a very young lad by a superb teacher, who brought the fictional world and characters to life so vividly that when I flick through those same pages over half a century later, I still read the words in his voice." Want a copy!

"The decoupage vase is older. Significantly older. If I possess anything that can be described as a family heirloom, then this is it. I can vaguely remember Mum trying to tell me about its history once or twice, but of course at the time I wasn't interested at all. Now that I'd love to learn chapter and verse about it, there's no-one left to ask. The only facts I do know are that it came through my maternal Grandmother's side of the family and once belonged to my Great-Grandmother, which takes it back at least as far as the mid-19th Century. That it has survived all those years intact is some sort of miracle and that it has now landed in my care is quite daunting." Is this the vase Kier Starmer is currently holding whilst walking across his ice rink?

Jo-Shreeve is back! "My favourite thing at home: my daughter Ezmay brought it for me so I could see the moon when it's cloudy." That is so sweet, Jo. Thank you.

"My favourite book is an old Winnie the Pooh book but I can’t find it! However, these make me laugh (but you probably can’t use them)." Of course I can, Jo!

"But I love my star book xx." I may have to blag a copy of this, Jo!

Our South-West surfer/BMXer, Rob: "Sorry I'm lacking a bit of creativity this month, so I'm going with this most enjoyable book, Mud, Sweat and Gears by Ellie Bennett which I was reading back in the summer while spending a week camping at Bigbury in the south Devon sunshine!" I think you'd like Mark Wallington's books, Rob.

And my artefact - "Here's my fave BMX, I rescued it from the tip and did it up, not sure what it is but think it's a Mongoose." I'll take your word for it Rob! Loving the Autogas pump.

Bendy Ben: "Too many things in my house to be photographed!! But this is one that always gives me a Proustian rush! A Space Lego board from c.1993/4." Thanks, Ben. It's like one of those 'Ask the Family' photo questions! (Ben promised me a book but I fear I may have frightened him off. Sorry, Ben - back to normal next month.)

The delightful C from Sun Dried Sparrows: "Hi John, There were teddy-bears almost as big as me, luxurious plush ones a small child could get lost in, ones with fancy bows round their necks...and there was this one. No taller than a pint bottle, with short yellow fur and a sewn-on pink bobbly nose, I fell in love with him, perched on the shelf in the toy shop. It can only have been down to magic that, a few weeks later, the little lemon-coloured bear somehow ended up wrapped in paper and tucked inside the pillowcase at the end of my bed one special December night...Pippaluk, my first teddy, loved and cuddled to threadbare, burst-stuffing condition has had three nose transplants and was once at serious risk of losing an eye, but I've kept him for 56 years. It seems only fitting that I should picture him with my favourite childhood book too. Equally as loved and tatty, 'A Tale of Tails' is a gorgeous picture book that I was given in 1965 when I was two, full of beautiful animal illustrations by Garth Williams. I remember exactly how it felt to enjoy these images as a child, how every creature took took on a different character and came to life. Just as Pippaluk did. Happy New Year! C x" Perfect, C. Just perfect.

K has come up with three entries this month! "I’m taking advantage of a quiet house to send a couple of offerings for the January photo challenge. First up is 1923 novel The Ripening Seed (original title Le BlĂ© en Herbe), the first novel I read by Colette, courtesy of my then-girlfriend in the mid-late 1990s. I subsequently bought my own copy, a reprint from 1969 with a gorgeous cover. It’s not Colette’s most famous book (that’s Gigi) but it’s the one I keep coming back to. Juxtaposed with Colette is the Caribbean and a culinary staple, West Indian Original Hot Pepper Sauce, which I was introduced to as a teen. It still burns but I love it!"

"I read lots of music autobiographies and one of the best in my opinion is What’s Welsh For Zen by John Cale with Victor Bockris. Released in 1999, my copy is the limited edition loose leaf box set, designed by the brilliant Dave McKean. It’s an absolute nightmare to read but a rare example where product, art and anecdote combine perfectly. I had the opportunity to see John Cale perform live this year and it was every bit as incredible. Attaining a similar level of perfect synchronicity is Hifi Sean & David McAlmont’s album Happy Ending. It was my first purchase as a Last Night From Glasgow subscriber in Dec 2022 and it’s a beautifully packaged double album in glorious yellow vinyl. The music within is revelatory and I’ve played and played and played this album in the twelve months since."

"My third offering and a bit of a cheat is one of two books that I received this Christmas (the other being Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto), the cliche being that my favourite book is always the one I’m reading right now. So, here’s Pete Paphides’ autobiography Broken Greek with “friend”. I have no idea what this is supposed to be, but Mrs. K saw it on a Christmas market stall last week, liked it and it’s now decorating Casa K. Again, I’m sticking with the cliche that your favourite object is the one you last bought so, tat or not, it’s in! Best wishes, K." I don't know where to start, K. You've certainly put a lot of thought into what matches up with what! Thank you. And I know you'll enjoy PP.

Charity Chic: "Hi John, the book I am currently reading. Musings on bonfire Britain - both horrendous and hilarious in equal measure. My artefact is my Charles Rennie Macintosh bookmark." (You say the bookmark was the subject of its own blog, CC - do send the link.)

And as Mike Yarwood used to say at the end of his shows "And this is me."

Magnus Mills is one of our most underrated authors. I come back to 'All Quiet..' often and can't begin to explain the feeling that comes over me whenever I turn its pages. On the back of reading so many reviews that compared him to Kafka, I went away and read Kafka. So another thing to thank MM for.

My artefact is a set of Beatles autographs. No, of course they're not real. Well they are in as much as you can quite clearly see the napkin behind the glass surrounded by the frame with four signatures on it. They cost me a tenner, twenty five years ago (the frame a little more). And they're both leaning on my guitar.

Thank you, again, for playing along. What I've particularly enjoyed this time around is everyone coming up with something new. As in, you've all gone around your homes looking to take a brand new photograph; whether it be of something old, new, borrowed or blue. (It's a theme we may return to). I'll post February's PC in the comments section below in a few days. Take care, J.